The apparent sense of bitterness among Israel's
public following the Cairo announcement of a ceasefire
is unjustified. There is a good chance that Operation Pillar of Defense
will improve Israeli residents' security; in other words – minimize the missile threat on the southern and central districts.
In the meantime, however, we don't know if that will happen and if this improvement in security will last days, weeks, months or years. Therefore, we should adopt practical – rather than emotional – criteria for the future judgment of this military move, which is now a thing of the past.
The first criterion relates to the rocket and mortar threat on Israel's southern residents. The practical test is whether children in Sderot, in kibbutzim in the Gaza vicinity and in Ashkelon will continue running into fortified spaces upon hearing the Color Red alert.
We must understand that the real problem is not the killing and destruction caused by the warheads of the rockets and mortars, but the constant anxiety in which some one million citizens in the State of Israel have been living – and may continue to live.
The second criterion is whether Hamas,
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad
and the Popular Resistance Committees
will use the lull to arm themselves with additional high-quality weapons, and whether they will improve their fighting methods as a result of the experience they gained during the current operation. This is what happened after Operation Cast Lead,
and the results were seen not only in southern communities but also in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The IDF was also surprised to discover that despite the innovation in the field of intelligence and aerial warfare, at the beginning of the operation in was quite difficult to intercept and thwart the rocket launching cells. The army should be given credit for the fact that its commanders and field personnel learned while fighting and managed to overcome the surprises prepared by Palestinian terror organizations.
The third criterion is whether the Palestinian terror organizations will continue operating along the border fence against IDF forces defending communities east of the border fence within Israeli territory.
We shouldn't be particularly impressed by the fact that terror organizations continue firing into Israel several hours and perhaps even an entire day after the ceasefire declaration. Any agreement, or unwritten understandings, on a ceasefire or "hudna" or "tahadiya", has what the IDF refers to as a "braking distance" – the time that goes by before the ceasefire is stabilized and becomes definite. At least for a while. The "braking distance" can be long, it can be short, but the results of the operation will not be judged by it.
Rishon Lezion residents protest ceasefire (Photo: Avi Moalem)
Deterrence is a strategic term, and the question whether it was restored in Operation Pillar of Defense will only be answered in a few months or years time. From an Israeli point of view, it hardly matters whether Hamas had a short-term cognitive victory or not.
After the Second Lebanon War,
we saw Hezbollah
worshipped by the Arab world while sitting in a bunker, and the Iranians sending supervisors to ensure that he refrains from engaging in nonsense again. Nasrallah celebrated, but we have had six years of calm so far. Judging from the outcome, Nasrallah's cognitive achievement is worth nothing.
Hamas has short-term cognitive achievements as well. The fact that it managed to fire until the very last minute, and the fact that the residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were forced to lie down on the ground or run into their stairwells, the fact that it was courted by Egypt and Turkey– there is no doubt that these are all achievements, the question is how long these cognitive achievements will last. Just like deterrence, cognitive achievements and prestigious achievements have an expiration date.
It remains to be seen whether Hamas will succeed in leveraging its short-term achievements into real political and economic achievements. Hamas must now rebuild Gaza, and for that it needs money. Hamas also seeks political recognition from European countries, the United States and Arab Gulf states. It's unclear to what extent this request will be fulfilled.
And now to those "reaping the benefits." There is no doubt that Egypt
has the most to profit from two aspects: It was thanked and applauded by the American government for helping prevent the region's stability from being undermined – something which would have happened had the IDF launched a ground offensive in Gaza. This gratitude on the part of the US will likely be expressed in generous financial aid. The other aspect is that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt proved to be worthy of the Arab leadership crown which is traditionally carried by Egypt, a crown providing prestige.
Another winner is President Obama, who proved to all skeptics in Israel that the US stands by Israel without any hesitations, while proving to the international community that the American influence on the Middle East is firm and abiding. Russia, Iran or China can only hope to be in a similar state of influence in this energy-rich region one day.
Gazans celebrate end of IDF operation (Photo: AFP)
There is another angle we can't ignore: The ability to combine advanced intelligence with the Air Force's operational and combat fitness demonstrated by the IDF in Operation Pillar of Defense – an ability which most likely does not exist anywhere else in the world. This is not false bragging, but the fruit of hard work and many brilliant minds.
Alongside Military Intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi and Air Force Commander Amir Eshel, the performance of Southern Command chief Tal Russo is worthy of note as well. IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz orchestrated the whole thing quietly and modestly.
The IDF's activity is lacking in the field of cognitive and psychological warfare. It's not the same thing. We must remember that the majority of Gaza's residents, even the younger ones, don't have Facebook and Twitter accounts and therefore are not influenced by what the Israeli PR system is trying to stick in their heads.
The IDF used different means, such as leaflets and taking over radio stations, but for humanitarian purposes and not in a way that would influence the residents' almost complete support for Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Using means that are not "new media" would have probably been more efficient in conveying the Israeli message and the truth to Gazans. Now that that has not been done, we'll have to wait for the effect of the destruction and losses brought about by the IDF to sink into the mind of the Palestinian population, which will take to the fuming streets of Gaza.